Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving

The power of gratitude

Here in the US yesterday was Thanksgiving. A day that traditionally is spent with friends and family, eating lots of food, then lying practically comatose on the couch watching football. The last few years many have truly embraced the “thanks” part of the holiday, and that’s a wonderful thing. The power of gratitude is broad, creating physical and mental well-being.

Gratitude for resilience, healthy aging and happiness

The act of being grateful can go far in promoting healthy aging, happiness and optimism, but only if it’s more than one day a year. 

Every day I make a point of specifically stating things I’m grateful for. Some days it’s really easy, when all my chores are done and the dogs have been behaving themselves. On harder days, though, it’s more difficult. But those days are the days when even the smallest thing means the most. When the dogs have gotten into the garbage, when business has not been the best, when things break – those are the days that I need to list specific things I’m grateful for.

Things I’m grateful for

Like if my sick old dog hasn’t thrown up that day, then I have another quality day with him. When my sister and I have a productive discussion, our relationship has grown stronger. And the headache that’s been plaguing me for the better part of a week goes away. Sweet relief! 

Gratitude gives me warmth

Those are the times that my gratitude fills me with warmth. And that feeling makes me want to spread that warmth to others, so that they can feel what I’m feeling. That’s the power of gratitude. Then I feel able to take on the world. That anything is possible. Even on bad days.

When that power of gratitude fills me, it’s easy to resist my natural inclination to just sit and scroll through my news feed. I actually want to write a chapter in my book or an article. I’ll happily do the research, even though that’s not my favorite thing. Or I’ll pick up that cleaning rag and tackle a spot I happen to see, rather than just letting it sit – and with four dogs there are plenty of spots.

Gratitude can bring people together

When I’m feeling grateful, I want to bring others into my life, rather than caving to my natural hermit tendency. And being more social also tends to increase our happiness and optimism. It’s been proven that practicing gratitude actually makes people happier. In one study, people wrote and delivered thank you notes, and their happiness was subsequently measured. It turns out that this simple act increased people’s happiness for a month. Think what daily expressions of gratitude can do! Not all gratitude needs to be expressed publicly, though. Writing in a gratitude journal works too. 

So, find that little thing you’re thankful for. Be grateful for breathing, for feeling the breeze, for the beauty of bare branches. Those little things can bring much bigger ones. If we only let it, the power of gratitude can make every aspect of our lives better. 

The 3 Keys to Healthy Aging

I have an irrational distaste for going to the doctor. Of course, if I really have to go, then I will. (I’m not like my grandmother who absolutely loved going to her doctor’s appointments and all the attention she got there.) So I do everything I can for my healthy aging. It turns out that there are 3 keys to healthy aging that all work together.

Diet is first

The first of the keys to healthy aging is diet. Your nutrition, what you eat, affects everything you do. Your diet affects your brains, your bones, and muscles. Eating a healthy diet has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer, among other health concerns. It also affects your mental health. Eating well can lessen your likelihood of developing depression or anxiety. If you eat a healthy diet, you’re more likely to keep to an exercise plan. And you’ll sleep better. What you eat can determine the amount and quality of your sleep.

Number 2: Exercise

Exercise is the second key to healthy aging. The benefits gained from exercise are for every age. From lower blood pressure to stronger bones to better mental clarity, exercise is essential. And every type of exercise can help to improve your sleep. Of course, exercising closer to bedtime could make it more difficult to fall asleep. I always have more energy after I exercise, so I don’t even try to take a nap after a workout.

Sleep is Last But Not Least

And sleep is the third key. Sleep gives your body and your brain time to recover from the day’s exertions. Without proper quality sleep, you have a higher risk of certain conditions like stroke, heart disease and diabetes. When you get enough sleep, you have better energy for all the activities you love doing during the day. 

They all work together. The 3 keys to healthy aging make you more resilient and able to tackle everything life throws at you. Sleep and a good diet gives you the energy to exercise. Exercise and sleep help you make good choices, both in your diet and in the rest of your life. And, of course, diet and exercise keep you healthy and happy.

Exercise for mental health – is it enough?

I’ve mentioned that exercise will boost your optimism, improve your memory and make you more resilient. Exercise is also important for healthy aging. All that’s still true. But is exercise for mental health enough? Perhaps. I’ve mentioned that I exercise to be a nicer person. I exercise to work out my frustrations and anger. But I also exercise so I can eat. And I run to make navigating an agility course with my dog a little easier.

I don’t want to plateau

I don’t enjoy exercise. And for me, exercising for my mental health would not be enough. So I push myself. But everyone is different, and if you exercise strictly for the mental health benefits, you’ll still sweat and get endorphin rush from aerobic activity. But if you don’t push yourself, do one more repetition, run an extra hundred yards, push the speed a little, or the incline, you’ll reach a plateau in your physical conditioning. That may not matter to you.

Progressive overload

But if hitting a plateau is not in your makeup, and you want more from your exercise, then you’re like me. You’ll push a little harder, run a little further, lift a bit more. The experts call this “progressive overload.” By gradually increasing the difficulty or intensity of your workouts, you become stronger, faster, and more fit. The term is usually applied to strength training, but it can be used for any kind of workout. And by gradually increasing the difficulty, you’re continually challenging yourself. 

Gradually increase your speed or reps

Trainer Chad Barribeau, CSCS, says, “A good rule of thumb is to increase your workout load (whether weight, reps, distance, or speed) by 10 percent or less each week. This can ensure you’re challenging yourself while controlling your risk of injury or burnout.” Slow and steady increases will produce gains in your physical fitness without the soreness we frequently experience from doing too much too soon. So, slow and steady really can win the race.

Me? I’m greedy. I want it all. I want the happiness and release of frustration that the endorphins produced by a good workout bring me. And I also want the speed and strength I get from conditioning my body.

Your fitness journey is yours alone

The instructor in one of my favorite fitness program videos says “Fitness is a journey, not a destination.” And that couldn’t be more right. You can never say, “I’m fit, so I don’t have to exercise or watch what I eat any more.” You’re never done. And your journey toward fitness is yours alone.

Your goals are different than mine

It’s different than mine, or your partner’s, or your sister’s. Your fitness goals are different than my goals. You may want washboard abs. I don’t think they’re necessary.Feeling better and being fit improves my resilience. I may have a fitness goal of being able to run 8 miles an hour. You probably don’t care about how fast you run. We’re all different. Each of our fitness journeys is correct and right for us. We have to change our mindset to accept and appreciate our uniqueness.

A break in the fitness journey

The fact that we’re never done with our journey to fitness hit home to me recently. If you’ve been exercising regularly for a while and stop for a week, you know that you’ll be sore all over again. I had Covid and just didn’t feel up to exercising for a few days. I started up again,but my muscles were sore, I wasn’t as strong, and I was winded more quickly than before I was sick. So I started my journey again. There’s no destination. My journey to fitness is ongoing. And yours probably is too. I consider myself “fit,” and I want to stay that way.

Being truly alive means staying fit

If we’re alive, don’t we want to be truly alive? Experience new things, taste new flavors, smell new aromas? All that means staying fit. We may want to share our journeys, but we don’t want to be dependent on our traveling companions. We want to be able to walk around new cities. Visit new shops and restaurants. And being fit means not slowing our traveling companions down. 

Everyone’s journey has similarities

Everyone’s fitness journey has similarities. We have to plan our workouts and nutrition. Everyone has to figure out how to vary the exercises we do so we don’t overuse muscles. And we each have to measure our progress against the goals we set for ourselves somehow.

So, enlist others to go on your fitness journey with you. Walk with a friend. Commiserate about a tough workout with a classmate. Bitch and moan about running with relatives. And remember they’re on their own fitness journey.

Make it fun and you’ll be motivated

Last week’s article was about wasting time to get back into a project that you’ve been procrastinating on. Say you’re writing an essay and the words just aren’t coming together. You’re staring at that blank screen and nothing’s coming to you. So, take a few minutes and scroll your feed. Just a few minutes. Then come back and chances are you’ll be able to write coherently. On the other hand, if you know exactly what you have to do but don’t want to do it – like exercise for me – make it fun and you’ll be motivated to do it.

Get motivated to exercise

There are more exercise programs out there than anyone can count. There’s bound to be one that you like and will look forward to doing. It’s important for your healthy aging to be consistent in your exercise routine. If you like dance, there are loads of dance-based beginner workouts on YouTube, available when you search. Check them out, and note the instructors you like – their voice, the moves and the music they use. And see if there are more episodes. The more of something you like, the better! Same with other types of workouts. If you like yoga, or Pilates, there are lots of those out there as well. Or put your favorite music on for 45 minutes a day and move! That’s loads of fun, you’ll get your heart up, and get plenty sweaty!

The fun was not in the exercise

The author of a recent article in Psychology Today had a little bit of a different take on the issue. Elizabeth Roper Marcus is 77 now, and several years ago decided that she should exercise. She started walking with a friend and that worked for a while, until she realized that the entire reason she was doing it was because it was with that friend. Marcus’ exercise habit was totally dependent on that friend. What happened if the friend couldn’t exercise with her? Then she wouldn’t exercise.

So she took an unused closet, put a treadmill and a TV in there, and watched movies and her favorite shows while she walked. Over time she was able to increase her speed and the treadmill incline. She got stronger and more fit. She found the secret, to make it fun. Of course, walking does not address all the recommendations of the CDC for strength training in addition to the cardio work, so Marcus goes with her husband for that at a gym a couple of times a week. She says that’s not as much fun, but she’s with her husband which makes it better.

My fun in exercise is different

For me, I’ve found a workout program that I like, and do that one or two times a week. I do Pilates-based workouts a couple other days a week, and I run on the treadmill a couple more times a week. I do not like to run (I’ve said that before). But, I enjoy listening to audiobooks, especially mysteries or thrillers, while I run. And that’s what keeps me running, following Marcus’ lead on that one.

As I’ve said before, if you don’t enjoy something, and it’s not absolutely required, you won’t do it. But make it fun and you’ll be motivated.

Waste time to get motivated

So this morning I woke up early, thinking I could write maybe a thousand words in my novel. I was at a crucial point, but a couple of days ago, the last time I tackled this document, I got stuck. I’m at a crucial plot point, and I couldn’t figure out how to resolve the issue. So today, after I got back from the bathroom and made sure the dogs were still sleeping soundly, I turned on my keyboard, got my phone, and was immediately distracted by a news story. Funny, now, I don’t even remember what that story was. I must have wasted ten minutes scrolling the news after reading that story.

Then I shook myself (mentally) and told myself to get to work. Opened the Google Doc and started banging the keyboard. No breaks for about a half hour, until I had to get up and start the day. I didn’t quite make it to a thousand words, but came close. It turns out that it’s actually a proven productivity method: waste time to get motivated.

Scroll social media?

In fact, Joi Foley of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, advocates scrolling social media as a way to get away from the pressure you put on yourself when you’re stuck. If you’re working on a project and are stymied on where to take it, chances are your path will become clear after a break. And scrolling your social media accounts for a few minutes can provide that break. Thinking about a great bread pudding recipe, for example, can let your mind solve that other, totally unrelated, problem. The key here is to get back on track after a few minutes. If you like this solution to problem-solving, you may want to use an app to get you back to your task after a set time period.

Do nothing

Another way Foley can waste time to get motivated is to do nothing. Just sit and breathe. I’ve advocated meditation myself. It’s sometimes hard to get the noises out of your head, though, to meditate properly. Perhaps a short guided meditation can help you focus on something else.

Work for 5 minutes

So another time-waster Foley suggests is to just work for 5 minutes. Goodness knows, sometimes those 5 minutes can seem like forever when I’m working on a project I wasn’t looking forward to. So after those 5 minutes are up, do something else. Chances are, you’ll start thinking about the project you left and get the urge to start working on it again.

Take a walk

I also advocate a change of scenery. Take a short walk. That often helps me clear my head and want to dive into a project when I get back. Taking a walk not only helps productivity but also contributes to your happiness.

All this time-wasting is contributing to your productivity. By strategically doing other things, and thinking about other stuff, you’re actually doing more to get the stuff you really want to get done, done. And that will make you happier, more optimistic, and more resilient. It contributes to your healthy aging and you’ll get the urge to get even more stuff done.

Outside factors do affect your motivation

In a perfect world, you’d wake up in the morning, fired up to work out, run all your errands, and knock three things off your Goal-Setting Go-Getter To-Do List by 11. And you’d still have time to get a good start on saving the world by lunch. But, we know things don’t work that way. The way my day started: the alarm went off, I rolled over to turn it off. Put my feet into my slippers and hobbled into the bathroom because my back and hip let me know that it would be a bursitis day. Wandered back into the bedroom to get dressed. Turned the light on to find that my old dog had thrown up on the towel he sleeps on, on the bed. (Thank goodness it was on the bed!) Hurriedly got dressed, gathered up the dirty towel, picked up the old guy, and ushered the others outside. Motivation for the rest of the day: shot. So, outside factors do affect your motivation. For sure.

Overcoming outside factors affecting our plans

So how do we deal with that? How do we overcome those outside factors that affect our plans for every day?

Outside factors (like dealing with a sick dog) do affect your motivation

Of course, we have to deal with things that come up that require immediate attention – like cleaning up the old dog and putting the towel in the laundry room for the next load. But we just have to deal with the other things that stick around that affect our plans. Like the chronic pain of bursitis. Some of you may have chronic back or knee pain. It’s not fun, and every so often it’s more acute than others. But it’s something that’s not going away. So we deal with it.

Is it possible to maintain positive momentum then?

But to maintain our motivation to move forward with our plans, remaining in that mindset of having to deal with external factors is not going to work. We have to actually change our mindset and decide that we’re not going to settle for just cleaning up dog vomit. Once we tend to the immediate problem, it’s time to get going.

Achieving a growth mindset

It may be time to cross those little niggly things off the To Do List – ones that don’t take a lot of brain power but just need to get done. You’ve accepted the fact that you may not get some really deep thinking done today to make great strides toward your ultimate goal, but you can do some of the little things that will inch your way forward. This encourages your growth mindset – your ability to change and grow, become more resilient and positively impact your mental state. So, settle the dog in a nice bed by your workstation, take a deep breath, and check off some boxes. 

Yes, outside factors do affect your motivation, but that doesn’t mean that they rule your actions. Decide to move forward.

For more tips on maintaining your momentum, grab the “Get It Done” Guide.

Just one more!

I don’t know too many people who are excited to exercise. I’m not. I do it because the benefits I get from exercise allow me to do the things I actually want to do. But I know that in order for the exercise to keep giving me those benefits, I have to keep challenging myself. You probably know that many days I do my workouts with a pre-recorded program. I pick up my weights and follow along. As the years have gone by, I’ve increased the intensity and the weights I use. I’ve gotten stronger, and the old weights were no longer challenging. I also want to be able to do more regular push-ups because I want to get stronger. To motivate myself, I tell myself, “Just one more!”

The key to motivation

And that’s the key to motivation. “Just one more” can be your watchword, your spark, for anything you’ve got in your sights. One more pound to lift. Run another tenth of a mile. Walk one more block. Write another chapter. Knit another row. The sky’s the limit when you tell yourself, “Just one more!”

Stagnation is the worst thing

I believe that the worst thing we can do is stagnate. If we don’t grow, if we don’t evolve, then I think we can just dig a hole and get comfortable there. By growing and developing new talents we learn more about ourselves and the world.

Develop a “growth mindset”

And in challenging ourselves, we develop what’s known as a “growth mindset.” We aren’t satisfied with the way things are now, with ourselves. We know that we can be better. We can become more fit, for ourselves and the people who love us. And we can explore more things. We’re not satisfied with our current knowledge base. Sometimes that’s scary. But by learning more about the things that scare us they lose the aspects that we fear. We can bounce back and become more resilient as fewer things scare us. Sure, there are other scary things out there, but we may have to look harder for them.

When we can do “Just one more,” then perhaps we can do two more, and conquer the world that much faster.

Don’t use fear as a motivator

It’s Fall – when we strive to prevent falls

It’s officially Fall according to the calendar, and my reminder to focus on my balance exercises. It’s an unkind fact – as we get older we not only gain more wisdom (that’s a good thing), we also lose things. Like our eyesight, our hearing, our hair (for some), our bone density, and our sense of balance. Falls are a primary cause of sending us seniors to the hospital. And once we’ve fallen, we live in fear of falling again. We may not be able to do much about our eyesight and hearing, but we can work to improve our balance. Fear of falling is a powerful nudge to get us working on our balance, but don’t use fear as a motivator.

Negative motivators are powerful

Fear has been called the most powerful motivator to get us to do something. And it certainly works. For a while. But we become fatigued. We can’t live in fear day in and day out. It’s not enough to be afraid of falling to get us to do the simple balance exercises. Fear tends to paralyze us. And if we don’t fall one day, or two, or a week, then we lose the motivation. We’re still afraid of falling, because the memory is there, but it’s no longer so powerful.

I learned a lot about aging

I started my balance journey a number of years ago after I fell and injured my knee and hips. It’s true that knowing our balance diminishes is often not enough to get us to work on it, though. In fact, I didn’t know about that aspect of aging until I started doing some research. I didn’t like the fact that losing balance is a natural part of aging, so I decided to see if there was something to do about it. Happily, I also learned that simple exercises (you can do the Core-Centered Balance Moves too) can help us regain the balance we’ve lost over time. This is a long-term prospect. Much like general exercises for the rest of our bodies, the benefits are lost if we don’t do them and they’re cumulative if we keep on doing the exercises. So we need additional motivation to keep us working on our balance.

Negative motivators are exhausting

But fear is a negative motivator, which never works as well as positive ones over time. Negative motivators are tiring. They’re unsustainable. Negative motivators work really well in the short term – like making you hurry if you’re late to an appointment and fear the consequences. Negative motivators are great at getting you to avoid doing things – like going out of your house if you’re afraid of falling. Positive motivators work much better in the long run at helping you to take action. You’ll want to go places and visit friends and family if you’re confident that you can do so safely. You’ll be able to bounce back and be more resilient if you’re confident in your independence.

So don’t use fear as a motivator to practice your balance moves. Instead, think of the confidence you’ll gain by your improved balance. You can step out of your door with confidence. You’ll revel in your independence. You’ll know that even if you do step on uneven pavement, the Inline Walking exercise that you do every week (yes, I know it looks and feels weird) will help you keep your balance. 

It’s just two minutes a day. Practice your balance. Be confident.

Third type of motivation

A while ago I told you about 2 kinds of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic. External and internal motivation – your motivation is fueled by outer forces, or you’re motivated because you enjoy the project. But, that doesn’t explain how people who do not like to exercise still get up, change their shoes and work out five days a week. The benefits of exercise don’t matter. When it comes to doing a bunch of burpees and getting hot and sweaty, I don’t care if this will help me remember things. I’d rather do a Sudoku puzzle. My heart is fine, thank you. My healthy aging? Doing great, thanks. And as long as I can zip my jeans, my weight is good.

What makes mundane tasks more motivating?

So here’s where the third type of motivation comes in. The Harvard Business Review did a study on how to make even the most mundane tasks more motivating. And you might be surprised at the results.

Do it for others

Do it for others. You’re part of a team. When you exercise, you make an investment in yourself. Your family needs and depends on you. You exercise for them. And that’s the third type of motivation. The motivation that inspires you to go above and beyond what you think you’re capable of. The thing that makes you push beyond what you thought were your boundaries. You can achieve more than you ever thought possible when you do things for the people in your life who you love, and who love you.

Your secret weapon

The third type of motivation goes much further than intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. This motivation brings in a secret weapon – other people. You can use these other people as your exercise team. Some people are able to sustain exercise when they do it with others, either as part of a group class or an accountability group. When I took group step classes, for example, I was able to forget how out of breath I was. The music and cheering of others lifted me up and kept me going. My classmates, or my team, motivated me to continue stepping, jumping, and lunging past the point where I might have stopped.

Your accountability team can also keep you going. If you have a group that checks in with each other once a day, for example, you know that you’re going to have to tell them that you worked out for a half hour or 45 minutes, or an hour. Or you have to tell them that you wussed out and didn’t exercise. Most times peer pressure motivates us to do the thing we really don’t want to do.

If you really like to exercise – great! Do it. If the benefits you get from exercise motivate you to work out, that’s good too. But if these types of motivation just aren’t doing it for you, you can rely on the third type of motivation to get you up and moving. Exercise for others.